The visiting South Dakota School of MInes & Technology men’s basketball team could barely miss in the first half on Friday evening at Chadron State College, however the Eagles turned things around powerfully in the second half to rally from down 12 points at the intermission to top the Hardrockers 69 to 65 at home in front of 981 in attendance at the Chicoine Center.
The Eagles avenged an 80-59 loss just 13 days earlier in Rapid City, holding their guests to 5-of-22 from the floor and just 1-of-6 from three-point range in the second half, after the Hardrockers romped to a 40-28 lead in the first with 65.2 percent shooting and 6-of-7 from long range.
“My mentor Don Meyer wasn’t lying,” said CSC Head Men’s Basketball Houston Reed. “When you’ve lost a couple in a row, it doesn’t feel like you’ll win one again. I’m proud of our guys’ resiliency and how they bought into each other in the second half. Specifically we’ve challenged a lot of our guys, in the past five to seven days, to become better men. We talked about taking responsibility for your actions whether things go well or things don’t go your way. We were really upset about some of the defensive breakdowns we had in the first half. We weren’t defensively executing some stuff that we taught over and over and worked on Tuesday through Thursday. Our guys took the coaching and applied it on the floor, and that showed maturity.”
CSC missed its first seven looks from the floor in the opening six minutes, hitting just two of its first four free throws as SDSMT started on a 10-2 run. Freshman Mitchell Sueker, the Hardrockers’ leading scorer on the season, had eight of his team’s first 13 points before Eagles senior forward Jeremy Ruffin was able to lock him up for seven points, matched up in man-to-man defense, the rest of the way. Ruffin played 35 minutes, holding Sueker to less than half his scoring total of 32 against the Eagles in the teams’ previous matchup..
The Eagles closed it to 15-14 nearing the middle of the first period, before Mines guard Jack Fiddler, a junior, hit back-to-back threes to regain some of the Hardrockers’ distance. Chadron State maintained its deficit in single digits until Fiddler, who led his team with 17 points on the night, hit his fourth consecutive shot from beyond the arc with 18 seconds left until halftime to stretch it to 38-28.
Chadron State had a second half which was a polar opposite of its first half performance, creating a 20-point swing in the game by allowing its opponent only two of its 15 field goal tries to start the period. Meanwhile, seven different Eagles scored during that pivotal stretch to tie the game at 9:17 remaining and give their team its first lead with 7:26 to play.
Junior guard Michael Sparks, who had a game-high 18 points in the game, hit 3-of-4 threes in the second half and did not miss in four shots from the free throw line.
Senior Jaisean Jackson took a hard pass down the lane from classmate Diontae Champion for a layup to give CSC the edge for the first time at 50-49. The Eagles never relinquished that lead.
CSC survived one final gasp from the Hardrockers in the final four minutes, with Mines scoring on seven of eight possessions, however the visitors missed their final three field goals as Chadron State preserved the win with four consecutive free throws by Sparks and another junior guard, Colby Jackson.
“It feels good tonight,” said Ruffin. “We needed these five games that are left to get into the playoffs, so it’s feeling really good. All we talked about at halftime was getting stops one possession at a time, and the team stepped up.”
Champion, Ruffin, and senior forward Adoum Mbang each tied for team runner-up in scoring with nine points apiece. Ruffin and Champion each had a game-high seven rebounds, and Jaisean Jackson led both sides with five assists.
Mines guard Allec Williams, the team’s second-leading scorer on the season, was not present in Friday night’s game.
Chadron State improved to 11-13 on the season, marking its most overall wins in five years. The Eagles evened up their Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference ledger at 9-9 in league play. The nine conference wins are the program’s most since 2011-12, which also saw its last postseason appearance. This year’s team would need to win the remaining four regular season contests to match that season’s 13-9 mark in the RMAC.
Black Hills State University visits Saturday in a high-stakes matchup. The Eagles are teetering on the edge of playoff contention, tied for eighth in the league standings but owning a tiebreaker over Adams State. Black Hills, which lost Friday 72-51 at MSU Denver to snap a six-game win streak, is still in position to host an RMAC first-round tournament game, tied for third at 12-6 in league play. However the Yellow Jackets must host undefeated Colorado School of Mines among its final three contests, which are all in Spearfish, South Dakota.